China wants to open major Arctic shipping route

China’s state news agency Xinhua reported last month that a Chinese ship had conducted a successful test of a trading route along the Arctic Northwest Passage. The announcement from Beijing confused the Canadians who claim sovereignty over the waters transited by the Xue Long. The Globe and Mail reported that the Canadian government thought the the Snow Dragon was on scientific research trip along with the Canadian scientists who were also on board.

The Xue Long (or Snow Dragon) traveled for 2,300 nautical miles through waters claimed by Canada for eight days. Xinhua proclaimed the voyage and would provide “a wealth of navigation experience” for future Chinese ships.

In recent years, the continued disappearance of Arctic sea ice has fueled projections for the Arctic as a new international trade route.

For China, the Northwest Passage could become a new notch in its multibillion-dollar logistics program known as the Belt and Road Initiative. The appeal includes the shortening of trade routes between China and North America. A Shanghai-to-New York route , for example, stretches 10,500 nautical miles through the Suez Canal. The Northwest Passage would cut that route by nearly 2,000 nautical miles and seven days of transit time.

Sending cargo from East Asia to the U.S. East Coast via the Suez Canal, a sea-level canal in Egypt with no locks or pinch points that can take the larger post-Panamax vessels. The Suez saw its share of traffic representing trade between Asia (including Southeast Asia) and the U.S. East Coast rise from 30% in 2010 to 42% by October 2013. However, shipping cargo from Shanghai to New York this way takes nearly 28 days; a vessel taking the Suez route will make 4.7 round trips yearly (77 days per trip), vs. 6.5 round trips annually (56 days per trip) through the Panama Canal. Costs can also add up quickly; once the Panama Canal allows post-Panamax containership transits, the Panama route will save 23% on total transportation costs vs. the Suez Canal route.

An Arctic route would probably take 20-26 days to go from China to the US East Coast. It would be faster and cheaper.

The Suez poses a credible threat to the Panamanian business in some cases. Maersk, for example, stopped shipping through Panama and only sends ships through its Egyptian competitor. There is talk of a “Suezmax” ship – which can carry up to 18,000 TEUs – becoming the global standard one day, which could cause a similar problem all over again.If manufacturing continues to move from China to Southeast Asian countries, whose ports are closer to the Suez, the route’s relevance will likely grow as global sourcing patterns change.

8 thoughts on “China wants to open major Arctic shipping route”

    • Still working on that “Indian” Ocean problem.
      Of course, the city of Atlanta has it’s own oceanic claims to exploit.

    • Mind you naming Arctic Ocean North China Sea and claiming sovereignty over it all use no violence, it is all peaceful unlike the pioneers from the old continent of Europe using extermination campaign to steal North America (USA and Canada) from the First Nations of North America. The pioneers from the old continent of Europe confiscated the land and the riches underneath the North America with guns, nooses, rapes, bio weapons like smallpox, drugs like alcohol, Kangaroo courts, lies, napkin treaties, starvation in barren reserve concentration camps, culture genocide … while naming Arctic Ocean as North China Sean and claiming sovereignty over it involves none of the “civilized” methods used by the White to steal North America from the native American.

      • Unlike China’s use of happy methods in Tibet; or the pacification methods used in the “Great Leap Forward” which is the worlds record for Genocides.

  1. Why should the Chinese take Canadian sovereignty seriously? The rest of UNCLOS nations let China get away with whatever it wants in the SCC, so of course they are upping their game. Appeasement always follows this path.

  2. They could use an icebreaker to send a whole convoy through at once. That would eliminate the risk of becoming stuck. The routine cold temperatures though might make it a little harder to get and maintain workers.

    Really, if the US stopped allowing rail freight to artificially inflate prices, there would be no need (at least for ships from Asia going to the U.S. East coast. Rail currently asks whatever it costs to ship by truck, even though the real costs are about a third to half as much. It is all legacy stupidity put in place by “New Deal” legislation ages ago. It leads to half of our freight going by truck when it shouldn’t. That damages the highways (90% of highway and bridge damage is caused by big trucks), burns far more fossil fuel (trains are at least twice as efficient. The energy requirements would be about 1/3 but we have very heavy train cars compared with the rest of the world), leads to poor air quality, reduced driving safety, and highway congestion…especially in port cities (lots of semis in Los Angeles crushing cars obliterating motorcycles and just congesting. And when they jack-knife it stops traffic completely for hours). And it would be very economical to make all that rail electric. That could be powered by hydroelectric and nuclear. The fuel savings would be enormous. That means less foreign oil. Right now the fat being collected goes into absurd pensions, and just waste. Just a massive cost to our economy, infrastructure and environment.

    The passage though could allow some cargo that is too large for rail to be shipped from China or Japan or wherever to the East coast.

    Canada is going to want a cut.

  3. Global Warming!! HAHA! The ice is thicker than ever, so the route is only open for 4 months, if that. No comment on avoiding ice blocks that will damage hulls and propellers. The downside is being trapped for 8 or 9 months over the winter north of the Arctic circle in ships not designed to be either icebreakers or long term living habitats, as the crews of the HMS Terror and the Franklin Expedition found out to their demise.

    • ‘Some scientists are now saying colloquially that the Arctic Ocean has in recent decades entered the “Thin Ice Age.” Since 1980, the average ice thickness come July has decreased by an estimated 47 inches. Notably, this July, the average sea ice thickness in the Arctic was equivalent to the lowest on record. So, in spite of a slight rebound in summer extent, the average Arctic sea ice volume was still 47 percent below the 1979 to 2016 mean. ‘

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